Wolf Warrior diplomacy. Huawei exposed, behind the EU-China deal; China’s Prague party guests.

Gogi Kamushadze

Hello, and welcome to China Influence Monitor, a weekly newsletter published by CEPA and Coda Story and edited by me, Edward Lucas. We track the westward footprint of China’s influence operations, and their effects on politics, economies, societies and alliances across Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia and Europe.

In this issue: Why Trump’s Twitter ban is unlike anything in China; a 17+1 summit next month; New Zealand goes missing.

Canada and Britain are tightening rules on imports from China linked to forced labor and other horrors. British campaigners said the government’s move was all talk and no action. The foreign ministry in Beijing denounced Australia, Britain, Canada and the US for “grossly interfering” with their joint protest over the Hong Kong arrests. But where’s New Zealand? The other member of the Five Eyes anglophone intelligence-sharing alliance is conspicuous by its absence.

Two young Danish activists are changing their travel plans after helping a pro-democracy activist to escape from Hong Kong. Thomas Rohden and Anders Storgaard staged a fake climate-change conference in Copenhagen to enable Ted Hui to leave Hong Kong. Pro-Chinese lawmakers are demanding their prosecution. The two men, and a Danish politician who helped them, say they will not travel through or to any country that has an extradition treaty with China or Hong Kong.

Chinese vaccine deliveries to Turkey are cementing the countries’ ties — and Uyghurs, China’s largest Muslim minority, are worried. Persecuted in China, they have long regarded Turkey as a friendly refuge. But as Coda Story’s Isobel Cockerell reports,  activists fear that Turkey will pay for the coronavirus vaccine with their safety under a soon-to-be ratified extradition treaty. Serikzhan Bilash, a leading campaigner against Chinese repression who fled Kazakhstan for Turkey in September, told the Financial Times  “Turkey is now very tied to Beijing so I’m afraid.”

Rows are brewing over the European Union’s investment deal with China. Wirtschaftswoche magazine reports that China offered Deutsche Telekom a mobile-phone license in exchange for China Mobile getting the same in Germany — and for Angela Merkel’s support for the deal.  
Result: the EU is a geopolitical playground, not a player, says a Brussels official crossly.

TRUMP’S TWITTER BAN IS UNLIKE ANYTHING IN CHINA 

Donald Trump’s removal from Twitter is Chinese-style censorship, complains Sarah Huckabee Sanders, his former press secretary. Chinese propagandists say that it undermines America’s constitutional free speech protections. 

Here are four reasons they are wrong: 

  1. Xi Jinping — Trump’s counterpart in Beijing — is not going to get banned from anything in China. American companies make their own decisions, including telling the most powerful man in the country, and his friends and supporters, to take their business elsewhere. That’s unimaginable in China, where businesses do as they’re told.
  2. If you do get banned from WeChat, the dominant Chinese social media, you don’t just lose your soapbox. Daily life (shopping, for example) becomes difficult to impossible. Also, you will likely become invisible: those looking for your name on the Chinese search engines will draw blanks. Indeed, people searching for you risk trouble themselves.  
  3. President Trump has access to a host of broadcast and other news outlets. In China, your only chance of being heard, or heard of, would be media in the outside world. 
  4. The US Constitution protects press freedom from the government. It doesn’t give individuals the right to be heard. 

Takeaway: Technological progress always moves faster than the laws and norms needed to constrain it. Free societies constantly bridge that gap by trial and error, amid vigorous public discussions, political debate, litigation and campaigning. In China, the Communist Party leadership makes those decisions, in secret. That’s a big difference. 

HUAWEI WATCH 

Two items sizzling in the in-tray this week.

  • An investigation by the non-profit Signals Network and media partners exposes the Chinese telecoms giant’s corporate culture: hierarchical, discriminatory against non-Chinese and punitive. For the Chinese expat staff, romantic involvement with locals is penalized; and if you decline to return home when instructed you lose not just your job but your pension too. 
  • Also damaging: a Huawei device that uses artificial intelligence for facial recognition. The patent application (now hastily reworded) says that this could be used to spot Uyghurs in crowded places. 

What we are waiting for: A (virtual) 17+1 summit in Prague is planned for February 9 (according to the Czech China-watcher Ivana Karásková). The framework, in which 17 countries from the eastern half of Europe compete for Chinese infrastructure projects, was dormant last year. 

What to watch for: Who will represent the Czech Republic? The summit is supposed to be at head-of-state level. That would mean the Beijing-friendly President Miloš Zeman, not  Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. And who comes from Hungary, now China’s closest EU ally? Victor Orbán’s government there, having booted out the Soros-financed Central European University, is to spend $2.73 million (€2.24 million) in support of the Fudan University complex in Budapest, due to open in 2024. 

Who won’t be coming: the Czech Republic’s third-highest elected official, senate speaker Miloš Vystrčil, and Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib. Both featured in the taboo-busting Czech visit to Taiwan in August.

Top tip: send a junior transport minister if you want anyone from your government to be on the White House guest list any time in the next four years.

What we’re reading:China Observers about the new fashion for China-bashing among populist politicians, notably Britain’s Nigel Farage, who says this will be his new cause now that Brexit has been achieved. 

Takeaway: be careful — loudmouthed or xenophobic allies make it harder to gain broad public support. 

That’s it for this week — we will be back in your inboxes next Thursday.

Best regards
Edward

The story you just read is a small piece of a complex and an ever-changing storyline we are following as part of our coverage. These overarching storylines — whether the disinformation campaigns that are feeding the war on truth or the new technologies strengthening the growing authoritarianism, are the crises that Coda covers relentlessly and with singular focus. But we can’t do it without your help. Support journalism that stays on the story.

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Edward Lucas

Edward Lucas is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He was formerly a senior editor at The Economist. Lucas has covered Central and Eastern European affairs since 1986, writing, broadcasting, and speaking on the politics, economics, and security of the region.

A graduate of the London School of Economics and long-serving foreign correspondent in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, and the Baltic states, he is an internationally recognized expert on espionage, subversion, the use and abuse of history, energy security and information warfare.

He is the author of four books: The New Cold War (2008, newly revised and republished); Deception (2011); The Snowden Operation (2014), and Cyberphobia (2015).